Secretary Blinken on U.S. Allies

Secretary Blinken testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 19 for more than four hours, answering questions from both Republican and Democratic Senators on an array of issues, specifically U.S. allies and adversaries. What policies toward U.S. allies can we expect to see over the next four years with Secretary Blinken leading the State Department?

U.S. Allies

Secretary Blinken’s approach to foreign policy centers on close cooperation and coordination with the United States’ traditional allies in Europe and Asia. The Trump administration, through its America First tactics, disparaged U.S. alliances, particularly its European allies and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and effectively alienated the United States’ closest friends and partners. In contrast to a president who often openly preferred U.S. adversaries and strongmen, Secretary Blinken promised to recalibrate U.S. relationships with its allies for “the greater good.”

U.S. Leadership

One way in which the Biden administration plans to recalibrate the United States’ relationships with its key allies is by restoring U.S. global leadership. Secretary Blinken pledged to do just that. In his testimony, the Secretary reflected on the lack of U.S. leadership during the Trump administration, observing that the United States must have both humility and confidence in its leadership. “Humility and confidence should be the flip sides of the coin,” he declared.

Acknowledging that the United States has “a great deal of work to do at home” to repair its standing in the world, humility must play a key part in the restoration of global leadership. With humility, the United States is better able to recognize the importance of close allies and partners in its quest to provide leadership. Secretary Blinken rightly pointed this out by stating that “the United States cannot address the world’s problems alone,” signaling a need for strong and cooperative allies.

The Secretary also revealed why he believes the United States must have confidence, along with humility, in its leadership. “American leadership still matters,” he told the Committee. “The reality is, the world simply does not organize itself. When we are not engaged, when we’re not leading, then one of two things is likely to happen. Either some other country tries to take our place, but not in a way that’s likely to advance our interests and values, or maybe just as bad, one does [try to lead] and then you have chaos.”

In short, U.S. leadership crucial to imposing some sort of order in the world and the United States must have confidence that it can lead. Renewed global leadership is also one of the first steps toward recalibrating relationships with its key allies.

International Institutions and Multilateralism

Another element to Secretary Blinken’s foreign policy is reengaging U.S. participation with international institutions and reemphasizing multilateralism. Secretary Blinken feels as though the United States should work closely with allies within international institutions and treaties.

In efforts to shore up and demonstrate the United States’ support for renewed participation in international institutions, President Biden rejoined the Paris climate accord on his first day in office, a move that was welcomed by its European allies. Shortly thereafter, President Biden canceled the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization.

Returning to a practice of multilateralism with U.S. foreign policy and working with allies within international institutions are, indeed, key to recalibrating the United States’ relationships with its allies. Relatedly, to return multilateralism to its foreign policy, the United States, under President Biden, has stated its intent on rejoining the Iran nuclear deal.  

U.S. Core Values

Part of the Biden administration’s plan to reengage in international institutions and reemphasize multilateralism is through reinstating democracy, the rule of law, and human rights back to the center of U.S. foreign policy: “Our charge is to put democracy and human right back at the center of American foreign policy” Secretary Blinken commented. These values have long been cornerstones of U.S. foreign policy, for both Democrat and Republican administrations alike. Secretary Blinken indicated that the Biden administration will continue to follow that tradition.

Fundamental to this promise is President Biden’s plan to host a global summit of democracy, a concept which Secretary Blinken wholeheartedly supports. Aiming for the summit to take place later in 2021, the Secretary shared that it would be “an opportunity for democratic countries to think about the challenges they face at home due to rising populism and other challenges, and to work on a common agenda to defend democracy, combat corruption, and more effectively stand up for human rights.” The U.S. will be able to prove its trustworthiness to its allies by reinstating its core values of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights into its foreign policy.

Better Together

Moreover, Secretary Blinken shares President Biden’s belief that the United States’ allies are the most successful manner to “counter threats posed by Russia, Iran, North Korea, and to stand up for democracy and human rights.” Secretary Blinken will spend the next four years of his time as Secretary of State restoring trust with the United States’ allies, understanding that the United States must work with its allies to confront the common threats, including addressing the United States’ main adversaries.

Conclusion

Secretary Blinken and the entire Biden administration have a realistic outlook and approach to U.S. foreign policy, as he has emphasized the importance of recalibrating the United States’ relationships with its key allies in Europe and Asia by restoring U.S. global leadership, returning to a multilateral foreign policy style, reengaging in international institutions, and reinstating the United States’ core values in its foreign policy.

Secretary Blinken on U.S. Adversaries

The previous post discussed how Secretary Blinken, whom the Senate confirmed on January 26 as the next Secretary of State, would recalibrate the United States’ strained relationships with its key allies. This post is the second in a series of how Secretary Blinken would address U.S. allies and adversaries. 

U.S. Adversaries

The United States’ adversaries were another central theme throughout the hearing. During the Trump administration, the former President was often accused, beginning early in his term, of praising strongmen and admiring U.S. adversaries while treating U.S. allies poorly. The Biden administration plans to correct that. What policies toward U.S. adversaries can we expect to see over the next four years with Secretary Blinken leading the State Department?

China

China, in particular, garnered quite a bit of attention. Secretary Blinken took a hardline in his analysis of China, noting that “there is no doubt that China poses the most significant challenge of any nation-state in the world to the United States.” In providing his views on the world’s second largest economy, Secretary Blinken stated, “I also believe that [former] President Trump was right in taking a tougher approach on China.” However, he opined, “I disagree with many of the ways he went about it.”

The United States must approach China from “a position of strength.” This “position of strength,” he affirmed, included “a unified position among our democratic allies,” U.S. cooperation and coordination through international institutions, and standing up for “our values.” Despite his hardline analysis, Secretary Blinken also acknowledged that there are issues on which China and the United States can cooperate, including climate change, the coronavirus pandemic, and the Arctic Circle.

Secretary Blinken touched on the specific, more contentious issues in U.S.-China relations. Chief among those are China’s treatment of the Uighurs, a Turkic minority group in the Xinjiang province. Before leaving office, former Secretary Mike Pompeo classified China’s treatment of the Uighurs as genocide. When asked whether he agreed with this assessment or not, Secretary Blinken replied in the affirmative.

Relatedly, Secretary Blinken reiterated the Biden administration’s comment to Taiwan, stating that he would review former Secretary Pompeo’s late decision on loosening the rules which regulate how the United States can engage with Taiwanese officials. Taiwan is a particularly thorny issue in the U.S.-China relationship, and Secretary Blinken echoed seemingly bipartisan support for Taiwan in the face of pressure from Beijing.

Russia

Questions about how the Biden administration would handle Russia arose. On Russia, Secretary Blinken said the threat posed by Russia was “very high on the agenda,” signaling a sense of urgency for the new administration. Secretary Blinken promised an approach to Russia different from that of the Trump administration, which is often accused of being too lenient on Russia. This begins, Secretary Blinken observed, with seeking an extension to the New Start Treaty, that expires in early February.

Secretary Blinken also raised the recent detainment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was arrested upon returning to Russia from Germany after recovering from aa failed poisoning attempt last summer, with all fingers pointing to the Kremlin as the likely guilty party. Secretary Blinken expressed his support for Mr. Navalny, and drew attention to what he calls Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fear of the opposition leader: “It’s extraordinary how frightened Putin seems to be of one man. I think that speaks volumes.”

With respect to Russia’s larger regional and global threat, Secretary Blinken stated his strategy to continue supporting “the arming and training of Ukraine’s military, the continued provision to Ukraine of lethal defensive assistance and indeed, of the training program as well,” noting that he felt this program had been “a real success.” Secretary Blinken told the Senators that “I spent a lot of time on Ukraine when I was last in government” and concurred with the Senate’s desire of trying to help Ukraine and standing up to Russia in the face of the annexation in Crimea and the deteriorating situation in the Donbass in eastern Ukraine.

Iran

Much of the disagreement” [between Republican Senators and Secretary Blinken] centered on the Biden administration’s plans surrounding Iran and the Iran nuclear deal, from which the Trump administration withdrew in 2018. Republicans on the Committee worry that President Biden will abandon the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.

Secretary Blinken stressed how the U.S. withdrawal from that agreement has actually left the United States in a weaker position and noting that Iran is closer than before the deal to acquiring nuclear weapons, highlighting that Iran has “increased its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and fired up its centrifuges to produce higher-grade uranium.”

Secretary Blinken pointed out that Iran “represents a greater threat if it [Iran] wields nuclear weapons or reaches the threshold of using nuclear weapons.” He echoed President Biden’s plan to reenter the nuclear deal and that he would seek a “longer and stronger” agreement with Iran.

The United States is more likely to curtail Iran’s support for terrorism and proxy militias and regional antagonism, the Secretary claimed, if the nuclear weapons issue is no longer the primary issue. However, Secretary Blinken admitted that the Biden administration is “a long way from” any terms of a deal with Iran as it is too early to know what terms Iran will be willing to accept.”

North Korea

Secretary Blinken recognized North Korea as a strategic challenge for the Biden administration. He did not offer much in the way of the Biden administration’s plans or policies toward North Korea and its nuclear weapons. Secretary Blinken shared that the Biden administration would conduct a full review of the United States’ approach to North Korea in search of ways to get its leader, Kim Jong-Un, to agree to further negotiations.

Simultaneously, Secretary Blinken vowed to watch the worsening humanitarian situation. “We do want to make sure that in anything we do, we have an eye on the humanitarian side of the equation, not just on the security side of the equation.” What’s more, Secretary Blinken said that any actions taken on the North Korean issue would begin with close consultation with U.S. allies in Asia, specifically Japan and South Korea.

Conclusion

Similar to his perspective on the United States’ allies, the Secretary also has an in-depth and comprehensive understanding of the challenges facing the United States, particularly in its complicated and strained relationships with its adversaries as each adversary presents a unique challenge. However, Secretary Blinken’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee highlighted his capability, readiness, and enthusiasm to lead the State Department and return U.S. foreign policy to a more traditional and unified foreign policy.

Welcome to Allies and Adversaries!

The idea for this blog came to me one day about a year ago. I was reading through an issue of Foreign Affairs (am I the only one who nerds out when I get the most recent issue in the mail?), and I was thinking back to one of my favorite classes in college. In the fall of my senior year, I spent a semester in Washington, D.C., interning at the Organization of American States and taking classes through a consortium of colleges to which my college was (and still is) a member.

One of those classes, Allies and Adversaries, was taught by a former CIA officer. I had never taken a course like this one in my time as an international relations major that boiled down to two of the most fundamental questions: who are the United States’ allies and who are its adversaries?

To discover the answers to these questions, the professor bound together dozens of articles from Foreign Affairs into a booklet, divided up by the regions of the world. Our assigned reading for the course that semester was reading those articles – I was in heaven!

Ever since that class, one of my professional interests (and let’s be honest, personal too) has been the relationship between the United States and the world – other countries, international organizations, and non-state actors. And that is exactly what I plan to explore and analyze in this blog.